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Raiders a win away from the Capital Division title; defense scores twice in first half vs. Panthers

By Larry Etter

Press & Journal Staff

717-944-4628
Posted 10/24/18

With their 28-0 shutout victory at East Pennsboro on Friday night, the Middletown Blue Raiders assured themselves of at least a tie for the Mid-Penn Conference Capital Division title.

The only …

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Raiders a win away from the Capital Division title; defense scores twice in first half vs. Panthers

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With their 28-0 shutout victory at East Pennsboro on Friday night, the Middletown Blue Raiders assured themselves of at least a tie for the Mid-Penn Conference Capital Division title.

The only team that stands in their way of sole possession of the championship is Palmyra, who the Raiders will face Friday night at War Memorial Field.

The Middletown defense scored two touchdowns in the first half — linebacker Trayvon Joseph on an interception return and Joey Gusler on a fumble return. The offense registered two scores in the second half to lock up the hard-fought triumph and move to 8-1 on the season and 6-0 in the conference.

Junior running back Jose Lopez had 195 yards rushing with help from a big second half at George Saxton Field in Enola, breaking the 1,000-yard barrier for the season on a 17-yard run midway through the second quarter. Backfield mate Richie Sykes added 72 yards on 13 carries.

In some ways, this annual clash was typical of a Middletown-East Pennsboro knock-down, drag-out slugfest.

The host Panthers always play tough at home, especially against the rival Blue Raiders, and the two teams never fail to give their fans an entertaining performance. Friday was no exception as the two squads went at each other in a first half that was controlled by defenses. Eventually, the Middletown offense was able to finally break free from the Panthers in the second half with its strong running game.

Other aspects of the game are what pushed the proceedings out of the norm, including penalties — some questionable — that were called, and others that were not. Spotty ball placement during the game, play stoppage by the officials and some baffling clock operations cast shadows over the game.

“It was a tough game,” coach Brett Myers said. “But our kids played very, very hard. We had a lot of different guys doing different things to help us win. Eight and 1 is a whole lot better than 7 and 2,” he said.

East Pennsboro’s defense held the Raiders pretty much in check throughout the first half.

The Blue Raiders went 3-and-out on the game’s first offensive series but a good punt by Avery Williams pinned the Panthers back at their own 13 to start their first possession. On the second play following a first down, Joseph accurately read a screen pass and intercepted Nick Karoly’s throw inside the 20, returning the ball to the end zone for a defensive touchdown with 7:30 left in the first quarter. Pressure on Karoly from Cole Senior forced the errant throw. Anthony LaVia’s PAT gave the Raiders a 7-0 lead.

Joseph recorded his second interception six plays into East Pennsboro’s ensuing possession, but the Blue Raiders were eventually stopped at the Panthers’ 35 and could not cash in on the turnover.

Early in the second period, following an exchange of possessions, Williams topped his first punt by kicking deep. The ball was downed at the East Pennsboro 4 yard line and set the stage for Middletown’s second defensive touchdown.

On first down, Senior’s hard hit caused a fumble and Gusler was there to claim the bobble in the end zone for the score.

“It’s like a lineman’s dream to get a touchdown,” Gusler said after the game.

Defensive stops by Senior, Gage Radabaugh and Ethan Miller forced another three-and-out for the host team and, following a face-mask penalty on the return, the offense was back on the field near midfield.

Lopez’s 17-yard run on second down pushed him over the 1,000-yard barrier and the Raiders stayed on the ground, reaching the East Pennsboro 6 in 11 plays. But the chance to score eluded them as penalties stopped the drive. The second one wiped out an 11-yard scoring pass from Scott Ash to Lopez, and the Raiders came up empty, leaving the score at 14-0 at halftime.

That score remained unchanged throughout the third quarter as both teams recorded pass interceptions to halt drives in the period. A late sack by reserve defensive tackle Damion Williams and a pass theft by Lopez stopped the Panthers’ best scoring chance inside the 20.

The Raiders stayed with their running game heading into the fourth quarter and the inevitable finally happened when Lopez broke off a 53-yard touchdown sprint with 9:34 left. After getting the blocks to set him free, Lopez outran the East Pennsboro defensive backs. Morgan Billman, Jeremy Wells and Radabaugh, who sacked Karoly for a 13-yard loss, made plays to lead the defense throughout the remaining time. 

With 5:46 left, the Panthers gambled but came up empty on fourth and 7 at their own 45 and the Raiders were back on the field with the ball. Lopez ran twice for 17 yards and, two plays later, Sykes turned in one of his signature runs by going 28 yards for the game-clinching touchdown with 4:09 left.